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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman, Vol. 12 - Zatoichi and the Chess Expert
Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman, Vol. 12 - Zatoichi and the Chess Expert
Home Vision Entertainment // Unrated // May 18, 2004
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted May 25, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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Between 1962 and 1974 there were 25 Zatoichi films made. A final, sort of anniversary, revisionist Zatoichi film was made in 1989. Add to that a successful television series and a current remake by Beat Takashi, and, obviously, with that many hours of entertainment devoted to one character, what was created was nothing less than a beloved cultural icon. Set in the age of rouge samurai, Shintaro Katsu stars as Ichi, a blind masseur, gambler, gangster, lady charmer, deadly swordsman, and all around kind-hearted scoundrel. Zatoichi and the Chess Expert (1965, aka. Zatoichi's Trip to Hell, Blind Swordsman and the Chess Expert, Showdown for Zatoichi), is the twelfth film in the series.

While traveling on a ferry, Ichi befriends a samurai named Jumonji (Mikio Narita). The chess playing samurai and Ichi form a loose bond, each respecting one another's skill, Jumonji going so far as to blindfold himself during their matches so they will be even. But, Ichi also knows Jumonji is a loner and a man of deadly ways so he is not to be trifled with or fully trusted. After a young child is wounded during one of Ichi's scuffles with a local gang, Ichi helps out the child and her escort, who along with her brother are on the lookout for the man who killed their father... during a chess game.

I've always considered this to be one of the better films in the long series. Helmed by veteran Kenji Misumi, the man behind the bulk of the Lone Wolf and Cub films as well as Zatoichi at the Fire Festival, Zatoichi Challenged, The Life and Opinion of Masseur Ichi and Fight, Zatoichi, Fight. The films treads the same path the series is known for, with the trademark comic scenes of Ichi using his affliction to dupe his fellow gamblers, the heartfelt bond between Ichi and some innocents, and, of course, a deadly swordsman Ichi eventually faces in battle, yet each one of these all too familiar elements is done quite well with color and flourish.

The action is kept to a minimum and the relationship, building tension, and mystery between Ichi's new acquaintances drives the film. Still, one of the best scenes involves Ichi's nighttime return with medicine for the injured girl. He is attacked and during the scuffle in a grassy marsh, he loses the precious medicine. While Ichi's other senses are sharp enough to make him a masterful swordsman and often capable of near superhuman feats, in this scene, the desperation of his blindness and his caring heart is wrenching, showcasing why Shintaro Katsu was a fine actor and Ichi such a beloved character.

The DVD: Home Vision

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Another fine print. The colors are a bit muted, but overall I am more than satisfied with the transfer quality. The print is relatively clean and free of serious damage. Sure the age is apparent int the sharpness, grain, and contrast, but it is still fine and samurai film fans will be very happy with the image quality.

Sound: Mono, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Well, there is little doubt about the films age. The dynamics aren't really there and the dialogue is, at times, on the weak side. Still, I prefer original mono tracks to remixes, and a slight pop here and there, tinny music, and such just remind you of the films spot in cinema history.

Extras: Chapter Selections— Liner Notes and Mini-Poster— Trailers for Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, Zatoichi and the Chess Expert and Zatoichi's Vengeance.

Conclusion: Okay, it seems pretty silly at this point, twelve films into a series, to waste too much breath. Once again, Home Vision does a very nice job with the materials and offers it at a reasonable price. Further, this is amoung the best films in the Zatoichi series- so get it.

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